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Jos Buttler’s fears are coming true at T20 World Cup

Jos Buttler raises his hand with a look of frustration on his face
Jos Buttler's captaincy has come under scrutiny as England struggle - Reuters/Ash Allen

It is no surprise that England are in this predicament, teetering on the brink of World Cup exit again with jobs on the line.

England chose a batting line-up of all right-handers and an ageing squad. After two games without a win, they look predictable and old. Beating Oman and Namibia in Antigua this week should be a given, but the stresses of the 50-over World Cup lurk too close to the surface to take those results for granted.

If ever a team was ripe for the taking by an associate it is England. It could all unravel again very quickly. Scramble through on run rate and they have to hope starting again in the Super Eights gives them a new lease of life. They have done it before but this time they carry the weight of failure in India, which brings more scrutiny.

Jos Buttler was tetchy before the tournament started, bothered by questions harping on about India six months previously, but the only way to really banish that tournament from memory was to start this one well. Instead a timid performance against Australia and failure to take a wicket against Scotland has heaped the pressure back on.

Buttler’s own pre-tournament fears are coming true. He worried about the right-hand dominance of his batting line-up and with vast experience of T20 knew it could really limit their scoring when confronted by a short boundary and strong winds that whip across the open grounds of the Caribbean.

Jos Buttler talks to his players during the loss to Australia
England produced a timid performance in defeat by Australia - Getty Images/Matthew Lewis

So it proved in Bridgetown where England just could not access the small leg-side boundary as well as Australia. They opened with two left-handers, Travis Head and David Warner, who won the game in the first powerplay, peppering that side of the ground.

The Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua is even more open than the Kensington Oval, with low grass banks square of the wicket on either side and the pitch usually slow and lifeless, requiring a bit of knowhow and variety to maximise conditions.

England have one left-hander in Ben Duckett in the squad at the T20 World Cup and his ability to play 360 degrees, especially against spin, and use his whip hands to take on slow bowling could be perfectly suited to Antigua. But it would mean axing Jonny Bairstow or Harry Brook. One is the past, the other the future.

Ben Duckett takes a catch in training with his team-mates grouped behind
Ben Duckett's batting style would suit Antigua - Getty Images/Gareth Copley

Bairstow is averaging just 24 this winter for England and it would make a statement by leaving him out but that would require head coach Matthew Mott showing a ruthless side we have not seen before. Dropping Brook is unthinkable. Instead he has to bat higher and be trusted with taking the game on.

Bairstow is looking slow in the field these days due to the aftereffects of his horrendous leg injury and his seven from 13 balls sucked the life out of the Bridgetown run chase. Obviously it is dangerous to write him off. He has staged too many personal comebacks to do that but if the engine room at No 4 and No 5 misfires, England will splutter out of the World Cup.

Bairstow came in with England needing 110 from 10 overs, exactly the scenario they were presented with when they were set a rain-affected total by Scotland, which Mott thought well within their reach. By the time Bairstow was out England needed 77 from 35 balls, and all hope was gone.

The batting is less of an issue because Bairstow could well click into life against a minnow and go on one of his runs. It is the veteran bowling attack that is the problem. It conceded 30 runs more than par to Australia by giving away too many freebies and was wicketless from 10 overs against Scotland.

Bowling attack is old and relying on past glories

England went with pace against Scotland on a slow pitch at the Kensington Oval that required pitching it up and bowling at the stumps. Mott described it as making a “statement”. It did not work but they repeated it against Australia and paid the price.

The attack is old and relying on past glories. Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali are 36, Mark Wood is 34 and Chris Jordan is 35. Rashid was outbowled by Adam Zampa, Wood had a poor 50-over World Cup and has never been as effective in T20 cricket anyway due to his lack of variations, while Jordan has always been a high-risk selection with the ball.

It is lucky they have Jofra Archer fit again. He is head and shoulders above everyone else because he can do everything, bowl with rapid pace or take the pace off and restrict scoring, but he cannot hold the attack on his own.

Jordan was the last pick for the World Cup but has leapfrogged Reece Topley, whose left-arm angle with the new ball was highlighted by director of cricket Rob Key when the squad was announced as a useful point of difference. His father Don is in the Caribbean and confirmed on social media Reece is fully fit. “Hoping it is not a stubborn selection,” he wrote on X. That will become clear in Antigua on Thursday against Oman.

England’s bad luck with the weather against Scotland added jeopardy to the group and is why this World Cup is so much more fascinating than the 50-over version where the 10-team opening stage with the top four qualifying for the semi-finals became predictable and boring.

It also magnifies decision-making and the pressure of tournament cricket. The decision to bowl Will Jacks for the second over against Australia was based on sound principles of T20 cricket where two off-spinners to two left-handed openers in the powerplay has a backstory of success. But franchise wallpaper cricket is one thing, doing it in a World Cup is another when someone of Jacks’s inexperience is bowling to a brute like Head.

World Cups test character rendering data spreadsheets less relevant. England have to sharpen their thinking and get streetwise otherwise some will run out of road for good in Antigua.

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